Car accidents happen for many reasons. These can include driver distraction, speeding, driving under the influence, and driver fatigue. There are many Oklahoma traffic regulations and common-sense traffic rules that drivers fail to follow, such as passing only when you need to overtake a slower-moving vehicle, not because you like to drive in the left-hand lane.
One of the causes of car accidents that doesn’t get a lot of attention is in which lane of traffic you choose to drive. When you’re on a single-lane highway, the decision is already made for you. When you travel on multi-vehicle lane roads, however, you have a choice of lanes. There are many multi-lane routes in and around Oklahoma City, including Interstates 35, 40, and 44, Lake Hefner Highway, and Kilpatrick Turnpike. Most of these multi-lane highways are high-speed routes, where a momentary lapse in judgment or a failure to follow traffic laws can cause serious or fatal accidents.
It helps to understand whether you should drive in the left lane, the middle lane, the right lane, or any other lane. The Car Crash Detective offers the following thoughts (combined with some of our own thoughts) on the safest lane in which to drive, which often depends on the speed limit of the roads.
City driving and roads with lower speeds
Generally, the safest lane is the one nearest the shoulder of the road. Driving in the slowest lane reduces the risk of being struck in a head-on crash by oncoming traffic.
If you’re driving on lower-speed roads and you’re in the slowest lane, there’s a better (but not certain) chance that you’ll survive a head-on crash or a side-impact crash – if you’re in a car with front and side airbags and vehicles that are sturdy and safe. The impact of head-on and side crashes is lower when you’re traveling at a lower speed. This logic doesn’t hold true, however, if you’re on a motorcycle or your car collides with a commercial truck.
Lower-speed roads tend to have more bends and curves. Winding roads are generally safer if you’re traveling at lower speeds, which means you should try to drive in the slowest lane.
Undivided high-speed roads
The speed limit on many undivided, or barrier-free, high-speed roads is generally above 45 miles per hour. Passing is especially problematic because passing vehicles often come perilously close to cars and trucks traveling in the opposite direction. When two cars are traveling at 45 mph, the impact is comparable to a crash at 90 miles per hour. Most drivers and passengers are lucky to survive. If they do, car occupants may suffer traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and other serious injuries.
Just like lower-speed travel, drivers should try to stay in the lane closest to the shoulder to avoid coming close to any cars driving in the opposite direction.
Driving on high-speed interstates and expressways
Interstates and expressways normally are protected from opposing traffic. The lanes traveling in opposing directions are divided by barriers. Some high-speed roads are divided by wide medians of grass or gravel.
While the possibility of getting into a high-speed collision may be substantially reduced with a divided highway, the safest lane is still the lane closest to the shoulder for the following reasons:
- If the weather makes it difficult to see because of heavy downpours, snowy roads, ice, or other conditions, going as slow as possible helps you keep control of your car. If weather conditions require you to stop completely, if you’re in the right lane, you can stop on the shoulder of the road until the weather improves.
- If your car has engine trouble or any type of problem that requires you to stop, then you want to be as close to the shoulder as possible.
- If you’re hit by a driver who is tailgating, you may have a better outcome when you’re going slower.
- Many trucks drive in the higher-speed lanes because time is money. The faster they arrive at their destination, the more time they’ll have for other deliveries. If you’re in a passenger car or on a motorcycle, you definitely want to be as far away from an 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer as possible.
- If a truck spills its cargo, you want to get out of the way of the truck and the cargo. The slower you’re traveling, the more control you’ll have over your car. If you’re in the outermost lane, you can quickly move to the shoulder to avoid the truck’s spilled cargo.
Every driver that passes another vehicle must be aware of cars in their lane and the lane they’re passing into. Awareness includes noting where the lane markers are, knowing the speed of the vehicles around you, looking out for any potholes, watching for any cars two lanes over that may also be trying to shift lanes, and many other factors.
The right lane still has its dangers
The main concern with being in the right lane is that drivers can still enter your lane from the right. For example, drivers exiting from parking lots, other roads, or on-ramps can suddenly enter your lane without giving you enough time to react or pass.
If you’re on a high-speed road, there is the danger that other roads may merge into yours. Generally, when roads merge together, traffic merges into the slowest lane of travel. This means if you’re in the slow lane, you do need to be careful that a driver might improperly try to merge into your traffic lane. If the merging driver merges too quickly, their car can strike your vehicle. When traffic merges, you should be alert for vehicles coming up on your right. Judge your speed and the other driver’s speed. In some cases, you may need to shift into the second or middle lane, in order to avoid a car accident.
If someone is tailgating you, you may need to consider moving into another lane to let that driver pass. Some drivers also may pass on the right in order to take an exit.
At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City car accident lawyers handle all types of motor vehicle crashes, including head-on crashes, broadsides, sideswipes, improper merges, improper passes, and rear-end collisions. Our seasoned attorneys have a combined 105 years of experience fighting for drivers and passengers. To schedule an appointment, call 405-232-1212 or fill out our contact form.
Marcus P. Mears is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Mears is committed to helping Oklahoma’s injured victims in the areas of injury law and insurance litigation. Mr. Mears was selected to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for his work as lead counsel in multiple seven figure injury cases. Learn More